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A Rubber Twist On Treating Tennis Elbow Pain

Rating

4 Star

Categories

A Rubber Twist On Treating Tennis Elbow Pain

Our Review Summary

The story said that a study showed the new treatment improved strength and decreased pain from tennis elbow — but it never said by how much or how this improvement was measured. We also never learn about important limitations in the study design that should have been mentioned. A link to the study abstract provided in the story wasn’t sufficient to address our concerns on these points.

 

Why This Matters

As this story points out, tennis elbow isn’t confined to the country club set and can do a lot more than throw off your serve. It can also directly threaten the livelihood of painters and other manual laborers whose movements are restricted by debilitating pain. Since there is no single treatment that is broadly effective for this condition, the identification of new therapeutic approaches, such as the FlexBar discussed in this story, is an important research priority.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Satisfactory

The story states that the FlexBar costs between $16 and $33. It could have compared this cost with that of some other treatment options, which can be quite expensive.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story makes no attempt to quantify the benefits associated with the FlexBar, and we don’t think linking to the study abstract is sufficient to satisfy this criterion (especially when the full text of the published study is also available online). The average reader can’t be expected to interpret differences on a “visual analog pain scale” or “DASH questionnaire” without some explanation of what these measures mean.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The FlexBar is probably safer than some other commonly used treatments for elbow pain such as steroid injections. However, the story doesn’t really address safety, except to say that traditional hand weights can sometimes make tennis elbow pain worse (and by implication, that the FlexBar won’t). While this isn’t a major concern of ours, we think it’s probably premature, based on a single 21-person study, to suggest that the FlexBar is safer than other noninvasive approaches to treating tennis elbow.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The story cites a study which documented improved strength and less pain among patients who used the FlexBar device. Although it links to an abstract of the study presented at a conference, the story made no attempt to evaluate the quality of this research or address its limitations. On the positive side, the study was a randomized, controlled comparison of adding the FlexBar to a traditional physical therapy program for tennis elbow — a relatively strong design. But the study’s very small sample size (21 patients) and short duration (7 weeks) are important limitations that should have been mentioned. Tennis elbow frequently relapses, so it is unclear if the short term relief reported here will translate into a longer-term benefit for patients.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

The story did not overstate the consequences of tennis elbow, which can cause debilitating pain that interferes with work and activities.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Satisfactory

The story notes the involvement of the FlexBar manufacturer in the study that is referenced. It also quotes an independent physical therapist who suggests there are other ways to achieve the effect attributed to the FlexBar.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The story mentions other treatment approaches to tennis elbow, including ultrasound, strengthening and stretching exercises, cross-friction massage, heat and ice.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

It is clear from the story that the FlexBar is commercially available.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The story earns credit for noting that there are other ways to achieve the effects attributed to the FlexBar (as an expert source points out, “There’s a variety of methods you can use to achieve the strengthening technique.”). However, the story didn’t satisfactorily address what is new and potentially important about this treatment–which is that it allows patients to do isolated eccentric exercises for tennis elbow at home. The only way patients could do this previously was in the clinic using an expensive machine. An at-home treatment would make this kind of therapy much more affordable and easier to access, which might also make it more effective.

Nonetheless, we’ll give the brief blog post the benefit of the doubt since it ended with the note: “The FlexBar is easy to use and you can do it at home.”

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Satisfactory

This story wasn’t based on a news release.

Total Score: 7 of 10 Satisfactory

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